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Child abuse case: Evidence against airman heard

Nov. 20, 2012 - 07:58AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 20, 2012 - 07:58AM  |  
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ABILENE, Texas — A West Texas detective testified Monday that the home on Dyess Air Force Base in which a malnourished toddler was found unresponsive and later died smelled of urine and feces.

Abilene police Detective Eric Vickers testified at a military hearing for Senior Airman Christopher Perez, who is charged under military law with child endangerment, failure to report child abuse and adultery.

Evidence presented at Monday's hearing will determine if Perez should go to trial. It is unclear when the judge will rule.

Vickers told the court Perez was living with Tiffany Klapheke, 22, and her three young children.

Klapheke's almost 2-year-old daughter died in August after being found unresponsive at the home. The preliminary autopsy report said the toddler died from malnutrition and dehydration. Klapheke is charged with three counts of injury to a child.

Vickers testified that her home was permeated with the stench of human and animal waste scattered about. He said the dead child's mattress was soaked with urine.

Vickers said Perez — who has a wife and child in Peru — met Klapheke online. Vickers said Perez told him he moved in with Klapheke to save money while trying to get his family to the United States. Vickers testified that Klapheke's husband, Thomas Klapheke, knew Perez was living at their home while he was deployed.

Perez's attorneys have said he had little access to the children and didn't want to criticize how they were being raised.

Since the toddler's death, Thomas Klapheke has returned from deployment and filed for divorce.

During questioning by police, Perez told officials that Tiffany Klapheke would lock the toddler and a sibling in their room, Vickers testified. Perez told officials that, in the days before the death, her mother locked the two children in a room for days.

Col. Glen D. VanHerck, commanding officer for the base and the 7th Bomb Wing, could dismiss some or all of the charges against Perez, order him to a court-martial or refer the case to another officer for lesser punishment.

The Klaphekes' two surviving children are in foster care.

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